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Jazz Town: Kansas City jazz community looks for ways to improve the scene

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They come into jazz with impressive skills and big dreams. But what happens to young musicians when reality catches up to them?

There are so many good young players and singers who want to perform jazz, with more coming in all the time. And the veteran performers still need their hard-earned pieces of the pie.

As a result, there’s not enough room on the scene—in Kansas City or elsewhere—for all of them to get paid doing it.

(That’s just talking about getting paid for your music, as opposed to making a living wage from it.)

It isn’t a new problem, but it’s growing as the music schools churn out more jazz musicians. And in these days when a gig pays only as many dollars as it paid decades ago (not counting for inflation), it seems there may be no relief on the horizon.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, and don’t expect one in our lifetimes, unless there’s a sudden and dramatic increase in jazz awareness among the general public. Each player will be forced to find an individual solution — a teaching job, a day job in another field or leaving their art behind entirely. A few will break through the barriers, but for the others there will be difficult life choices and perhaps hurtful compromises.

And the veteran musicians? Some of them need some new solutions, too.

Here’s where the new jazz catalyst group KC Jazz ALIVE and the Elder Statesmen of Kansas City Jazz group are making a stab at doing something.

A gathering called Musicians Assisting Musicians at 11 a.m. Friday at the Folly Theater has a panel of performers, union representatives, music presenters and others to lay out some options for finding work—in and out of music.

They’ll look at building business relationships, bidding on contracts and other intricacies of the nonmusical side of the music trade. Employment services, medical services, insurance and accounting services also will be represented. It’s for musicians in all phases of their careers.

Maybe it will help a few people keep things together and keep some dreams alive.

A panel discussion last week at the Mutual Musicians Foundation looked at the labor history of jazz musicians in Kansas City and explored how the American Federation of Musicians has lost some influence in the jazz community — and what the union can do to win some of that influence back. That event mainly looked into history, while Friday’s event looks forward.

The jazz community in this town is strong, even stronger than we could have expected a decade ago. This moment of strength is a good opportunity to focus on keeping the music playing for decades to come.


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